We started our day today with crafts – and compassion. It’s a strange combination perhaps, but it works for us.
Because I am a Mom, I spend hours thinking about things like the future and how will my kids make a difference. And what are the values I want to leave them with, because if we are all being real, then let’s state it as it is: our children are tiny slingshots, arrows, we shoot forward into the world someday to land a target without us. Sad, but true, and also magical and wonderful and life.
I want for my kids to carry compassion always in their hearts. I want for them to be tolerant, compassionate, kind and loving. If they are smart, that will be a bonus. If they are talented, which I know they are, then they will go far. But if they carry compassion with them then they will make a difference in the lives of others. There is no way to place a dollar value on that. It is, as the Visa commercial says, priceless.
From the time our amazing angels arrived in our home through adoption, which was the greatest gift we ever received, we tried to show compassion. We still do. Some of you who know me, are aware that I have spent a fair bit of time in hospital myself, very often sick as a dog with Crohn`s Disease. There are friends I have gained over a lifetime that stuck with me and visited frequently. And relatives too. There are those that don`t visit, call, help or reach out in anyway. It is not always possible to predict who will fall into which group. I don`t want my kids to ever be the kind of people who shun or shy away from sick or dying or disadvantaged people. I want them to know they can make a difference, and they do already.
Identifying all of the traits in the world that you wish to instill is fine. But somehow you have to get them there. So how can you help raise compassionate children?
Here are a few things we do with our kids:
1. Model compassion. Volunteer. Give. Be kind to others.
2. We started bringing our daughter with us when our friends were hospitalized. When a young child we all loved got cancer and could have died, we didn’t run for the hills, we headed to the hospital. Although he could have died and my daughter, only three at the time, would have been despondent, our friends needed our help and support and so we gave it, as much as we were able.
We visited. We brought muffins, we brought handmade cards and we showed up to try and help. We offered to come to the hospital and stay with our friend, 4, back then, while the parents showered or went for coffee.
3. As soon as my oldest girl was three I would ask her what can we do to help?
Kids always come up with the best ideas to make people smile. This morning we woke up and talked about my uncle getting sick with cancer too. He is often in our thoughts, but because this is a battle he keeps fighting. My kids quickly thought of homemade cards and letters and so that’s how we spent our morning.
4. Ask them how they think another person might be feeling. The beginnings of empathy are rooted in words. Letting your child know words for sad, upset, angry and frustrated, are all great ways to start teaching them compassion.
5. Problem solving. The collaborative problem solving approach by Dr. Ross Greene is an approach we sought out and used to help our kids try to grow problem-solving skills. It is an approach that also starts with teaching your kids the right words to use for feelings.
6. I give my children a lot of chances to spend time with smaller children. I believe it is a great way for them to mentor others and to be reminded of those around them. This Christmas my youngest daughter, who has special needs, and a well of compassion in her heart told her cousin, 3, repeatedly: How do you think that makes your baby sister feel when you take the toy from her. The whole room went silent to hear a seven-year-old parenting better than anyone else in the room.
7. Give your children chances to help or raise money for things they believe in. My kids are often wanting to set up lemonade stands and things like that in the summer. When they want to do that I remind them they can give some of their earnings away to an organization, or a cause. Recently they gave half their money from a garage sale to a therapy camp nearby.
8. Don’t shun bullies either. We should always teach our children to protect themselves from bullies, and give them the tools to be safe. But at the same time I like to ask them to think about reasons why the child could be acting like a bully. There is always a reason.
Compassion is a tool I never want my children to be without. What are some of the ways you nurture compassion in your little people?